Interview: Prince Turki bin Saud bin Mohammed Al Saud
What is being done to help commercialise the patents that are coming from current research and development (R&D) efforts?
PRINCE TURKI BIN SAUD BIN MOHAMMED AL SAUD: By way of the Saudi Technology Development and Investment Company – known as TAQNIA – we have established many partnerships with local and global companies to invest in R&D outcomes from KACST. More recently, with the Saudi Arabia Advanced Research Alliance, patents developed in the Kingdom are streamlined rapidly through a technology commercialisation pipeline directly to industrial companies. The alliance is a partner-based collaboration effort between six leading organisations from Saudi Arabia’s public and private sectors.
The process begins by first screening ideas for those with the highest commercial potential, then conducting a thorough intellectual property assessment and competitive market research analysis, ending with the testing of developed prototypes to prepare for commercial launch.
How is KACST ensuring the evolution of a more interconnected R&D ecosystem in Saudi Arabia?
PRINCE TURKI: KACST has carried out a number of activities to ensure such an ecosystem evolves, one of which is the establishment of the Industrial Innovation and Development Institute, whose main purpose is to connect research outputs to industrial needs. With over 95 successfully incubated technology projects coming to market with a value of SR150m ($40m) since its inception, I would say that we are off to a good start. We are also deploying the new Saudi Innovative Research Programme. The scheme supports universities in creating tech startups and solving companies’ technical problems. A project idea goes through three phases before going to market: the programme studies the project’s feasibility, enhances prototype development and clearly defines manufacturing requirements. Furthermore, we are utilising local technology innovation centres that aim to enhance university-industry collaboration even further. Lastly, the Technologies to Products Programme enables the commercialisation of intellectual property and patents developed within the Kingdom to allow for full collaboration between universities, research centres and industry. KACST is also very active in organising professional networking events, scientific conferences and workshop training programmes, where this past year more than 7500 interested participants were able to work together. Essentially, KACST contributes to the ecosystem in three important ways: support, cooperation and communication, thereby allowing us to transform research and technology projects into successful business investment opportunities.
To what extent is Saudi Arabia looking for foreign partners to facilitate knowledge transfer?
PRINCE TURKI: Multiple programmes have been created to facilitate partnerships with foreign entities. The foreign partner for a project will be selected according to which technology readiness level (TRL) it is classified under. At lower TRLs, the project is still in the research phase and is best partnered with leading top-tier universities, such as MIT, Oxford and Stanford. When a project reaches a higher TRL classification, it is just about ready to enter the market and is handled by experienced companies, such as Lockheed Martin, Huawei Technologies and Antonov.
What are Saudi Arabia’s key competitive advantages for developing a post-oil economy?
PRINCE TURKI: Saudi Arabia’s most competitive advantages are in the areas of water desalination, solar power generation, oil and gas, and advanced materials. To leverage these, we must establish emerging technology companies that add value to the innovative ecosystem and stimulate job creation.
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